Design Research as a Design Problem

I had an impromptu conversation with the indomitable Chad Camara the other day that left a mind bomb in my head. Well, not a mind bomb, per se, because he didn’t leave the thought and let it go off later, but rather was blunt about his point and it stuck with me. In any case, I thought I’d blog about it.

You see, Chad made the most excellent point that I am doing something out of the ordinary for design research. While doing my capstone, which is a research-themed capstone, and therefore is termed as design research, I have recognized I have two levels of users:

  1. Designers
  2. End users (i.e. the designer’s users)

I realized this for a number of reasons. I had an inkling about this from the start, which helped my preliminary research. As mentioned in a previous post, I unveiled the first draft of my design theory to members of my cohort and quickly realized it wasn’t tailored to them, but their supposed users. Since then, I have been careful to conduct end user interviews to help build my design guidelines while always keeping my user in mind, the designer. As mentioned previously, I want to create an infographic which brings relevance, meaning, a convincing argument to designers to use my design guidelines.

Bridging the Gap

This brings me back to Chad’s point: the method in which I am conducting my design research is helping bridge the gap between design academics and design practitioners. Typically, a design academic will do research about end users and artifacts, determine a theory, and present it to design practitioners as-is, believing the research will do the convincing.

This, as I’m sure we can all guess, rarely works with practitioners. Why? Because the design theory hasn’t been put into context. The theory isn’t meant to be digested and used by practitioners in a practical way, as a practitioner might expect. At least, that’s how it seems to me. The way my method differs from this traditional method of design academic -> design practitioner is that I recognize it isn’t a one-way street from academy to practice.

Designing Design Research

In fact,  I’m treating my research as if it were a design problem itself. I am treating my design guidelines/framework as if it were an artifact where I need to keep my user (design practitioners) in mind if I want them to use it. And I do. I think it’s so important that we, as design practitioners and academics, look at how we can empower our users to make artifacts their own. If I want design practitioners to take my guidelines seriously, it is imperative that I consider them as I create my guidelines. I need to design for my user.

This seems like common sense to me. If I’m going to design for my user, I’d like to bring my user in for “testing” to make sure I’m on the right track. This isn’t the case, however, with much of design research. It seems rare to me, and to Chad obviously, that design academics bring design practitioners in to poke holes in their theories.

I want designers to poke holes in my theory. I’d rather they do it now, while I’m in the midst of forming it. This way, I have a solid idea, rather than later, when I’m presenting to my cohort before graduation and look foolish for having not considered X, Y, or Z.

Again, this seems obvious to me. I am glad Chad reminded me that the obvious, the common sense, the everyday, is more often than not anything but for anyone who isn’t privy to the ever-churning thoughts in my head.

Definition of Identity

According to my (albeit limited) readings, identity is a hot topic in the psychology, sociology, anthropology, folklore, and other realms of study. This makes sense, right? Because how we define our sense of self  potentially defines how we see/interpret/comprehend the world around us; it colors our actions and scopes our interests. Identity and sense of self are big. However, I’ve come to realize that identity is in no way the same thing as sense of self.

Identity is a representation of that self, as far as I can tell, but not the self itself. If you get what I mean.

Common definitions

All that aside, I’ve begun working on my definition of identity, the same way I went about doing it for appropriation. So first, the common definitions of identity are as follows:

  • Merriam-Webster: (1a) Sameness of essential or generic character in different instances. (1b) Sameness in all that constitutes the objective reality of a thing : oneness. (2a) The distinguishing character or personality of an individual : individuality. (2b) The relation established by psychological identification.
  • The Free Dictionary: (1) The collective aspect of the set of characteristics by which a thing is definitively recognizable or known. (2) The set of behavioral or personal characteristics by which an individual is recognizable as a member of a group. (3) The quality or condition of being the same as something else. (4) The distinct personality of an individual regarded as a persisting entity; individuality. (5)  Information, such as an identification number, used to establish or prove a person’s individuality, as in providing access to a credit account.
  • Wikipedia (philosophy): identity (also called sameness) is whatever makes an entity definable and recognizable, in terms of possessing a set of qualities or characteristics that distinguish it from entities of a different type. Or, in layman’s terms, identity is whatever makes something the same or different.
  • Wikipedia (social science): an umbrella term used throughout the social sciences to describe an individual’s comprehension of him or herself as a discrete, separate entity.

According to these definitions, identity is about the individual; about the unique properties, qualities, characteristics that make one autonomous. Okay, I can go with that.

Academic definitions

Then I started looking at more academic sources of information.

  • Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Your identity in this sense consists roughly of what makes you unique as an individual and different from others. Or it is the way you see or define yourself, or the network of values and convictions that structure your life. This individual identity is a property (or set of properties). Presumably it is one you have only contingently—you might have had a different identity from the one you in fact have—and one that you might have for a while and then lose: you could acquire a new individual identity, or perhaps even get by without one.
  • According to Markus and Kitayama [1], self has two major “constructuals,” you can have an “independent” view of the self, or an “interdependent” view of self, which can “influence” and “determine” the “very nature of existence” (224). Essentially, it boils down to this (as found in summary table on pg 230):
    • Independent: internally-defined through thoughts and feelings, separate from social context, bounded and stable, determined to be unique, etc
    • Interdependent: externally-defined through status and relationships, connected with social context, flexible and variable, determined to fit in, etc
  • Oring [2] has a similar idea as the common definitions by stating that “personal identity is shaped from experiences that are unique to the individual as well as from those common to a collection of individuals” (212).

I have two books coming from Amazon that should also help me define identity: Hebdige’s book on subculture, and Turkle’s book on identity in the age of the internet. So I’m excited to read those.

Thoughts

In the meantime, while waiting for these books, what are my thoughts on (personal) identity? Well, it seems to me that identity must and is interdependent as well as independent. When alone, I think, see, interpret myself and my actions as one way. However, once in a social setting (i.e. I am no longer completely alone), I begin to interpret my thoughts and actions in ways I assume others may interpret them. As such, my identity and understanding of myself shifts.

That said, I agree that identity is a collection of characteristics, skills, qualities, etc, that make one an entity, as with the common definitions. Since I also agree with the academic definitions about interdependency, especially as we are never truly alone but are members of the culture in which we live, my definition of identity must keep this in mind. There is something to be said about having a collection of qualities, experiences, etc, which are unique to an individual but also to a community of individuals, as Oring states.

Working definition of identity

All right. So it’s now time for me to bite the bullet and determine a working definition of identity. I am mainly focused on personal identity, rather than individual identity or communal identity, though they do have influencing roles, so there is that. I do believe identity is about being unique, yet influenced by the community/culture. So my definition of identity, in terms of this capstone project about the overlap between identity and appropriation, goes something like this:

Identity is the unique set of experiences, qualities, characteristics, thoughts, behaviors, etc, that recognizably define an individual or collection of individuals, and the relationships occuring between them.

Phew. Here’s hoping that Hebdige and Turkle have definitions that similarly relate! Those of you who took the time to read this massive post, what are your thoughts? Those of you who have a stronger anthropology, folklore, psychology, and/or sociology background, am I on the right track? What are the seminal papers on identity and the self in your field?

References

  1. Markus, H., and Kitayama, S. 1991. Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation. In Psychological Review 98 (2), 224-253.
  2. Oring, E. 1994. The arts, artifacts, and artifices of identity. In The Journal of American Folklore 107 (424), 211-233.

Long time, no post

Oh hai. It’s 1:30 AM on a Saturday night and I’m blogging after standing in the ceramics studio for six hours glazing my Jello Cupcake Steampunk Machine, which I’ve dubbed “The Lazarus.”

Before you shake your head at me, cut me some slack. I have wanted to blog for almost two weeks, now. I have not blogged thanks to my contracting the H1N1 flu, which essentially made me sleep for a week. I got the H1N1! Doesn’t that mean I get a little leeway? No? Yeah, I didn’t think so, either. I didn’t go home this Thanksgiving break so I can catch up with the time I’ve missed due to being ill. So I wish I could say that I’ve accomplished a lot, but I feel like I haven’t. Not for capstone, anyway.

Capstone status update

  • I’ve created a spreadsheet of persons that I would like to contact for interviews. They all have some relation to Steampunk.
  • I’ve begun filling out the HSC forms so I can perform my interviews. Even with the guidelines, these forms don’t make sense. Thank goodness I have an example to look at.
  • I volunteered to do a five-minute presentation in capstone class talking about what I’ve accomplished this semester, and what I plan to do next semester. I feel this will help me crystallize my thoughts so I can focus on my paper a little better.
  • I have begun filling out some sections of my capstone paper. I’m still looking for exemplars outside of Steampunk, so if you have any ideas, comment.
  • I had a late-night pseudo-design session with Chad at Steak-n-Shake, where we talked about our capstones and the paper that is due in a couple weeks. The conclusion to that conversation was mainly that we don’t have time, aren’t sure what we’re doing, and that milkshakes are awesome.

Capstone To-do list

  • I’ve got to write my reflections about Halloween. Yes, still. Thank goodness I took video and have pictures to jog my memory. I don’t know why I’m dragging my feet on this. I know once  begin writing, I’ll enjoy it.
  • I need to complete the HSC forms.
  • I need to start contacting people to interview.
    • Meaning I also need to write my participation request letter, etc. Sigh.
  • I need to work on my five-minute status presentation. I have a slide deck outlined, there just isn’t much content yet.

“So little to do, so much time! Strike that. …Reverse it.”

Willy Wonka was a wise man, really.

Light-bulb Moments

Things have been pretty hectic around here, but somehow I still manage to make progress on my capstone. I love having conversations with the people in my program because the most interesting points come up.

Creativity isn’t consistent

I had lunch with Chad Camara one day, and we got into this conversation about creativity. He mentioned that even though we are both creative, he sees our creativity as being very different. Mainly, that mine is extremely personal. I write stories that reflect some deep belief or question that I have. I paint, draw, dance, sing, sketchnote, and create objects from clay.

I write this because it seems that my intrinsically personal creativity is a huge part of my self-perception and identity. If I can’t be creative, I feel lost. In the same way, if I can’t appropriate something into my world so that it feels personal to me, I don’t care about it. So that’s food for thought.

Getting push-back

I had a design session with my roommate, Lynn, and she had the brilliant idea of looking at how people look at objects. She made the point that I see everything as a potential building material to make something else… which she simply doesn’t do.

Nov 5, 2009: Lynn Dombrowski suggests that I do a design exercise where I take people to Goodwill, etc, and ask people what they would do with the objects they find. Will they see built/”finished” materials as components of new projects?

It has since occurred to me that not only do I learn from what they choose, but also what they don’t choose. As in, what do I see as building materials, and why don’t they see them that way?

Nov 8, 2009: Rachel Bolton asks me questions that stump me, only because all my information is stuffed somewhere in an inaccessible part of my brain. Her questions, however, start a subtle thought-chain which eventually lead me to my light bulb moment.

  1. What makes the steampunk appropriation unique… what are the
    specific implications for HCI?
  2. What makes the creative/identity rewards of appropriation
    (specifically steampunk?) different from other identity-forming
    endeavors like sports?  Is it the process, the materials, the people
    that are attracted to it?

Because I find I have difficulty answering these questions, I begin to wonder if it’s so smart to be studying steampunk in the first place. I love the topic, I find it fascinating, but really, what does it mean for HCI? I asked for push-back from Rachel, and she gave it to me, and I had no answer. Sigh.

Class Exercise

On Tuesday, Nov 10, we were required to bring our sketches in for discussion in small groups. Because I’m doing a research capstone, I was a bit stumped. I’m not sketching, at least not in the visual sense. So I brought in my pseudo-affinity diagram, pictured below.

Poster of Themes and Questions

So I threw it up on the wall with all the other sketches.

Sketching Exercise

Sketching Exercise

During this exercise, we had groups of four-to-five students. We walked to our different sketches and discussed the purpose of them, etc. My group was awesome with feedback. CJ Page admitted that he doesn’t appropriate anything at all, which just boggles my mind. I appropriate almost everything that comes into my life, in some form or another. It’s my way of engaging with the world. Which struck me as a worrying point while CJ spoke.

Light-bulb moment

That night after capstone, I climbed into bed with a frown. Something was off, I realized, in how I was approaching this entire research project. It wasn’t until about eleven at night that I had my epiphany.

You see, I had a dream about capstone. Specifically, a dream in which I realized my case study group (steampunks) don’t have to be my target user group. At first, I stayed in bed, repeating that mantra to myself: “Case study doesn’t equal target user.” I quickly became paranoid that I would forget the epiphany by morning’s light. So I grabbed my whiteboard markers and attacked my unsuspecting whiteboard for about two hours.

Sketching Exercise

I’m feeling pretty good about this direction. I feel like I have an idea of how I can apply the literature and my own experiences, compare them to the experiences of people who don’t do such things, and see what we can learn. Now if I could only find the time… and get some sleep!

HCI’s Appropriation of Appropriation

Well, it’s about 1:30 in the morning, so of course I’m working on capstone and have to blog about it. In reference to my former post about appropriation, where I discussed the common definition of the word, I thought it high time I also discuss the ACM’s definition of appropriation. I do this with the hopes that I will determine a working definition of appropriation and what it means to my capstone.

I have determined two categories from the six papers I found in the ACM Digital Library that specifically discuss appropriation: temporal experience and adaptability. The categories and provided definitions don’t seem to stray too far from the common definitions, except that they are applied to technology and our relationship with it. That said, I would be interested to read papers from the psychology tradition to know if the definition alters at all. I suppose it might/must.

Appropriation as temporal experience

Based on my readings from Adhe, McCarthy and Wright, and Wakkary and Maestri, one can think of appropriation as the amount of time spent with an object. All three papers suggest that there must be some sort of meaningful interaction or experience with the object. Adhe suggests the interaction/experience needs to be positive, whereas the other two papers make no distinction.

According to Adhe (1), the “appropriation process is part of a biography of goods. It is part of the biography of the products from the moment of purchase.” He goes on to say that  “the process of appropriation requires pleasurable experiences with the product.”

McCarthy and Wright (4) seem to have a similar definition, saying that appropriation means “making an experience our own by relating it to our sense of self, our personal history, and our anticipated future.”

Wakkary and Maestri (6) reference McCarthy and Wright by saying “we mean the remaking of something through a use that becomes personal, framed within our understanding of our situation and our anticipated future.”

Appropriation as adaptability

I don’t want to say that the following quotations are in contrast to appropriation as temporal experience. It seems to me that appropriation as adaptability and as temporal experience are inextricably intertwined. At the same time, however, their motivations are slightly different. One can’t learn to adapt an object without spending time with it, and without having an experience which suggests adaptation is an option.

Anyway, Dix (2) says:

“These improvisations and adaptations around technology are not a sign of failure, things the designer forgot, but show that the technology has been domesticated, that the users understand and are comfortable enough with the technology to use it in their own ways. At this point we know that technology has become the users’ own, not simply what the designer gave to them. This is appropriation.”

March, Jacobs, and Salvador (3) say that their focus for appropriation is on “openness, transparency and adaptability.” Similarly, Salovaara (5) says appropriation is when “users invent ways to use technology for purposes that they had not been considered before.”

So what do I think?

Well, first off, I don’t think you have to have a positive experience in order to appropriate something. I think that a positive experience helps, for sure. But I think one can appropriate something even under negative circumstances. For instance, how many of us hold on to our lemon cars, perhaps, because of memorable road trips with family/friends, etc? Maybe it’s the first car we ever learned to drive, even though the bottom’s basically rusted out now. It doesn’t matter if the car is decrepit, in our minds, it’s still that shiny car our parents gave to us.

In that way, it seems I agree with McCarthy and Wright in saying that appropriation is when we “relate [the object] to our sense of self, our personal history.” It seems to me that in order to appropriate, the object must become a part of one’s personal narrative. And how does one do that, exactly? Because it isn’t enough to simply bring the object into one’s life… that’s not appropriation, that’s possession.

Appropriation, then, is when one uses the object “in their own way,” as according to Dix. It is when one “adapts,” as per March, Jacobs, and Salvador, the object to one’s life/task/style/etc. I especially like Salovaara’s idea of appropriation, where it’s about using the object for something it hadn’t been “considered before.”

Meaning…?

Meaning that, by looking at the ACM definitions of appropriation, I think of it as adapting an object to oneself in a way that not only redefines the object, but also relates the object to one’s sense of self.

This relates back to my previous post, where I highlighted specific common definitions of appropriation, pulling out the following keywords and phrases:

  • To set apart for or assign to a particular purpose or use (Merriam-Webster).
  • To make (a thing) the private property of any one, to make it over to him as his own; to set apart (Oxford English Dictionary).

Excellent. So there you have it. My (current) understanding and working definition of appropriation. All of this might change, though, if I read something that truly ignites a spark in me. But in the meantime, this is what I will be using as my definition.

References

  1. Ahde, P. 2007. Appropriation by adornments: personalization makes the everyday life more pleasant. In Proceedings of the 2007 Conference on Designing Pleasurable Products and interfaces (Helsinki, Finland, August 22 – 25, 2007). DPPI ’07. ACM, New York, NY, 148-157.
  2. Dix, A. 2007. Designing for appropriation. In Proceedings of the 21st British HCI Group Annual Conference on HCI 2008: People and Computers Xxi: Hci..But Not As We Know It – Volume 2 (University of Lancaster, United Kingdom, September 03 – 07, 2007). British Computer Society Conference on Human-Computer Interaction. British Computer Society, Swinton, UK, 27-30.
  3. March, W., Jacobs, M., and Salvador, T. 2005. Designing technology for community appropriation. In CHI ’05 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (Portland, OR, USA, April 02 – 07, 2005). CHI ’05. ACM, New York, NY, 2126-2127.
  4. McCarthy, J. and Wright, P. 2004. Technology as experience. MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.
  5. Salovaara, A. 2009. Studying appropriation of everyday technologies: a cognitive approach. In Proceedings of the 27th international Conference Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (Boston, MA, USA, April 04 – 09, 2009). CHI EA ’09. ACM, New York, NY, 3141-3144.
  6. Wakkary, R. and Maestri, L. 2007. The resourcefulness of everyday design. In Proceedings of the 6th ACM SIGCHI Conference on Creativity &Amp; Cognition (Washington, DC, USA, June 13 – 15, 2007). C&C ’07. ACM, New York, NY, 163-172.

What do I mean by Appropriation?

This is a great question that was brought up by Nate Husted during an impromptu design session over Thai food at lunch.

(By the way, while Siam House on 4th in Bloomington is pretty good, I’m still partial to Esan Thai’s chicken fried rice. Thai curries just don’t do it for me the way Indian curries do. Yum.)

Back to business.

“What do you mean when you say appropriation?” Nate asked me as we walked to Siam House. It was drizzling, and cold. A miserable day, actually, where it wasn’t wet enough to open my umbrella, yet, it was misty enough that my glasses were rendered useless. His question was simple. So simple, that I was, for a moment, dumbfounded that I hadn’t thought to define my understanding of appropriation yet.

This isn’t to say that I hadn’t thought about it a lot, I had. I’ve read almost every paper in the ACM library on appropriation, so I have a working knowledge of how other HCI/tech researchers are approaching the appropriation research/design space. What about the general public? When they want to understand what it means to appropriate something, where do they turn?

  • Free Dictionary: (1) To take for one’s own use, esp illegally or without permission. (2) (Economics, Accounting & Finance / Banking & Finance) To put aside (funds, etc.) for a particular purpose or person.
  • Wikipedia: Appropriation is the act of taking possession of or assigning purpose to properties or ideas and is important in many topics.
  • Wiktionary: v (1) To make suitable; to suit. — William Paley. (2) To take to one’s self in exclusion of others; to claim or use as by an exclusive right. (3) To set apart for, or assign to, a particular person or use, in exclusion of all others. (4) To annex, as a benefice, to a spiritual corporation, as its property. –Blackstone.
  • Dictionary.com: adj (1) Suitable or fitting for a particular purpose, person, occasion, etc. (2) Belonging to or peculiar to a person. v (3) To set apart, authorize, or legislate for some specific purpose or use. (4) To take to or for oneself; take possession of. (5) To take without permission or consent; seize; expropriate. (6) To steal, esp. to commit petty theft.
  • Merriam-Webster: (1) To take exclusive possession of : annex. (2) To set apart for or assign to a particular purpose or use. (3) To take or make use of without authority or right.
  • Oxford English Dictionary: (1) To make (a thing) the private property of any one, to make it over to him as his own; to set apart. (2) Const. to oneself: = next. (3) Hence ellipt. To take possession of for one’s own, to take to oneself. (4) Eccl. To annex (a benefice) to some religious corporation, as its property. (5) To allot, annex, or attach a thing to another as an appendage. Obs. (6) To devote, set apart, or assign to a special purpose or use. Const. to, for. (7) To assign or attribute as properly pertaining to; to attribute specially or exclusively. arch. (8) To make, or select as, appropriate or suitable to; to suit. arch. (9) To make proper, to fashion suitably. (So Fr. approprier.) Obs.

So that’s a pretty good start, right? This, of course, is all impromptu research I did after Nate’s question sparked genuine worry that I wasn’t doing my job as a researcher. How could I possibly attempt to understand why people appropriate, without having a general definition of appropriation in the first place?

My answer to Nate went roughly like this:

“Well, I’ve read a lot about what the ACM community thinks about appropriation, so I guess I could talk about that. But to me, appropriation is when you take something, whether be a finished product or simple materials, and adapt them to fit you. You engage the artifact, whatever it is, and bring it into your lifeworld, as it were.

“Example… okay, so a ton of people have an iPhone, right? But no two iPhones are exactly alike, if you think about the apps that people download. Or the cases they buy. Or the other little personalizations and customizations that make your iPhone yours, and someone else’s iPhone theirs.”

“So appropriation is personal customization?” Nate asked.

“Yes, to me anyway. It’s making the object personal to you. But that’s just appropriation. I think my topic, my subdomain of appropriation, is actually about the do-it-yourself, creative aspects of customization and personalization. The extreme end of appropriation, where you engage the artifact to the point of using your creative talents to make it your own. What drives people to do that? Why do I do that?”

“So steampunk fits in…?”

“Because steampunks are all about doing it themselves. They embrace their creativity and engage the objects around them. They are an extreme of the appropriation spectrum. They are my people.”

So… okay. What’s the moral of the story? I’m sure you’re wondering. Well, the fact is this is why it’s so great to talk to people about my capstone. The fact that everyone seems interested, asking great questions… it’s invigorating. So invigorating that even though I was completely ready to sleep, having been laying in bed for an hour, I couldn’t sleep. Why? Because I kept thinking, I need to write down my thoughts on appropriation before I fall asleep and they drift away. So here I am, writing this entry at 12:30 AM EST on a Saturday night, after having literally traveled across the country, starting my day at 3 AM PST (6 AM EST, to be fair). I spent twelve hours traveling, and returned to Bloomington to partake in an excellent Diwali celebration.

I should be exhausted. I should be unbelievably cranky.

I’m sure I will be when I wake. But hey, let’s be completely honest here… What’s another few hours of late night, bloodshot cogitation to a seasoned graduate student, anyway?

Whistle While You Work

It seems to me that once you get into the thick of design philosophy, you can never escape designing.  However, I’m beginning to realize that while this graduate program certainly encourages and incites the designer in me to be a bit more active, Interaction-Designer!Binaebi was by no means silent in the first place.

In the Kitchen

Whenever my roommate leaves town she returns with the expectation that I’ve moved something. This is a semi-nervous tick of mine, completely intentional, but not malicious. I don’t like clutter, especially on kitchen counter tops. So when I open the kitchen cabinets and find empty spaces, I move the items from the counter top to the cabinet so the kitchen looks cleaner.

The thing is, I don’t remember to tell my roommate I’ve done this… and half the time it’s with her food in the first place. Thank goodness it’s something of a game to her. “Hmm… I wonder where Binaebi put the [fill in the blank] this time?” is a question she utters frequently, she admitted just the other day.

Now, this information concerned me. Was my shifting redesign of the kitchen’s organizational structure making her interaction with the kitchen frustrating due to my need for bare counter tops? Worse yet, was it hurting our interactions as roommates?

No, actually, because it turns out my shifting redesign has a pattern to it. I place all the baking items together on one shelf, the chips on another. All the Tupperware is in that bottom drawer. Unopened juice is placed in the fridge so the first glass will be cold. In the long run, it seems to work out for us, because my reorganization has an intuitive bent to it.

Which is good. The act of me rearranging items may not be time-efficient, but it is intuitively-efficient for when we need to find said items later.

Side note: This is an interesting concept I recently thought of… “time-efficient” vs “intuitively-efficient.” I should come back to this, see if it’s worth pursuing.

In the Arts

When I have any sort of emotional upheaval, I turn to my artistic roots and let the muses fly. I have, in the last month, upcycled two chairs that my roommate and I found by our dumpster. Solid wooden chairs with a screw or two missing, left for me to play with in the evenings after work.

The process is what makes these chairs amazing, not the end result. Though, I will admit, the chairs turned out pretty sweet. I sanded the chairs by hand, getting to know their shape, their feel, their character.

Argyle Chair: Finis!

“Argyle,” the first one screamed at me, “you must reupholster me in argyle.” When I bought the fabric, it was the end of the bolt, so I got three yards instead of one. Which was perfect, because the next day we found the second chair, and it was just as eager to have an argyle redressing.

I have also sculpted a little android, a paranoid little android who, despite his best intentions and careful planning, lost his heart and is absolutely befuddled by the realization. This project was a true design experiment, as I had no plans when I began to work the Sculpey clay. I simply rolled the clay into a ball, broke off a piece here and there while watching the movie Dogma, and by the end of the movie, I had a mini-Marvin the Paranoid Android from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Marvin the Paranoid Android loses his heart

But I’m never one to simply mimic. My Marvin needed something special, something which made him especially down. So I poked out his heart. For artistic purposes, of course.

Side note: I don’t know why Marvin lost his heart. He’s much too sad to go into the details with me.

I have turned to my music, listening to new and old favorites constantly, while psyching myself up to play the violin again after a three-month absence.

I have, for the first time in ten years, painted my toe nails. This may not be a big deal to you, but to me, every little bit of artistic expression counts. Like my Hot Topic earrings, which are currently little gray skulls. It’s the little things that make me laugh.

In Me

What am I trying to get at here? The fact is that all these little things…

  • Rearranging the kitchen
  • Reflecting on the interactions between my roommate and me
  • Upcycling a couple of discarded chairs
  • Sculpting a hilariously depressed robot
  • Preparing to practice violin again
  • Painting my toe nails
  • Buying and wearing goofy earrings

…these are things that point to me redesigning myself. Everything we do affects us positively, negatively, neutrally. When I began these projects, my motivation was lackluster at best. But as with anything, the more time I invested into the project, the more I cared about it. The more I cared, the more motivated I became. The higher my motivation, the more I poured my creativity into the project, the more I pushed myself to try something new.

The Moral of the Story

Interaction Design isn’t always just about man vs technology. Sometimes it’s about man vs man, or man vs self .*

How do we design and redesign ourselves? What goes into that decision-making process? And what can we learn from that process to help inform our design process, professionally?

I don’t know yet. It’s a work-in-progress.

*Borrowed from creative writing theory